On Eduardo's first day as a summer intern at Lehman Brothers, the first thing that the CFO's executive assistant does is inform him that he only got the position because his father pulled some strings.
The second thing she does is send him to take a company car and drive two hours to Philadelphia, where he's supposed to pick up a custom-made plaque for the CFO's office. Because apparently, the CFO is too impatient to wait a few days for the plaque to be shipped to New York.
"Save your receipts for gas and tolls," the lady tells him. "You'll file an expense report and get refunded."
Eduardo stares at her.
"Is there a problem?" she asks.
"No," says Eduardo. He pauses. "I— I didn't know my father pulled strings for me; I didn't ask him to," he mumbles then, touching his tie nervously.
The lady rolls her eyes and hands him a page of directions from MapQuest. "He wants you back before noon," is all she says. "You'd better get going."
And okay, thinks Eduardo. Whatever. He can put up with being treated like crap.
So he sets his jaw, and nods, and gets going.
The drive on the New Jersey turnpike gets more scenic as he goes, with the surroundings transforming from urban sprawl and industrial plants to grass and densely-packed trees.
After driving for an hour, he has to stop for gas, so he exits the highway at Molly Pitcher Service Station, a little complex of parking lots, fast-food restaurants, and a Sunoco gas station. It's kind of cute, he thinks. A bit run-down, perhaps, but quaint.
He's in the middle of paying for his gas when a guy approaches him— a youngish guy, with curly brown hair and a ratty blue hoodie and his hands shoved in the pockets of his cargo shorts. He looks like he could use a shower and a decent meal, so Eduardo assumes he's going to ask for money.
But he doesn't. He looks Eduardo up and down and observes, tonelessly, "Your license plates are from New York."
"Uh—" Eduardo frowns. "Yeah?"
"So you're driving down the turnpike."
"Yeah, I'm going to Philadelphia," Eduardo says, then regrets it, as it occurs to him that maybe telling a total stranger where he's headed is not the best idea.
The guy nods. They stare at each other for a moment.
Then the guy asks, very casually, "Can I ride with you?"
Oh. So he's hitchhiking. Instantly, Eduardo's mind is flooded with every hitchhiker horror story he's ever been told, every caution he's ever heard to never, under any circumstances, let a stranger into his car.
"Um," Eduardo says. "No, I'm sorry, I don't think, uh— I mean, I'm on company business, so I don't really feel comfortable..."
"Would you feel more comfortable if I gave you a blowjob?" asks the guy. He licks his lips then, like he knows exactly what he's doing, and Jesus, Eduardo feels his dick getting hard.
He blushes fiercely. "No. Uh. No, I think, uh, I think I'd actually be less... comfortable. With that. Sorry," he stammers, looking down.
"Okay," says the guy, nonchalantly. "Your loss."
And he walks away.
Eduardo watches him go, watches him trudge over to a black SUV at the other end of the gas station and tap on the passenger window.
Then Eduardo finishes pumping his gas, still watching out of the corner of his eye, watching as the guy gets into the car and the car backs out and drives off in the direction of the turnpike.
It makes Eduardo uncomfortable, somehow, to know that the guy got a ride with someone else. He wonders if he'd offered that other driver a blowjob too, and the thought makes Eduardo feel strangely— jealous? Possessive? Protective?
He should have said yes, he decides, as he uses the service station's restroom. He definitely should have said yes, should have just given the guy a fucking ride, or at least given him money; he'd clearly needed money...
Eduardo gets back to his car and sits there for a while, feeling like shit, thinking of the guy, of his curls and cheekbones and stormy blue eyes.
Then he pushes the guy from his mind, and starts his engine, and leaves the service station.
He hasn't been back on the turnpike for long before he sees someone standing on the grass by the side of the road, a few hundred feet ahead of him, holding out a thumb.
It's the guy, he realizes with a jolt as he gets nearer. It's the hitchhiker from the gas station.
So Eduardo pulls over to the shoulder of the highway, rolls down the passenger-side window.
"Hey," he calls. "You alright?"
The guy walks over to Eduardo's car and leans into the window. "Hey," he says tiredly.
And Jesus Christ. His lip is split, his nose is bleeding, and there's a purple bruise forming around his left eye.
"Shit," says Eduardo. "What happened to you?"
The guy just shrugs, and wipes at his nose with the sleeve of his hoodie.
Eduardo hesitates, and then: "You still need a ride?" he asks.
Eduardo nods. "Okay," he says decisively, unlocking the door. "Get in."
And the guy gets in. He takes off his backpack, which is grungy and badly worn out, and holds it tightly to his chest as he sits. He buckles his seatbelt and glances at Eduardo, opens his mouth like he wants to say something. But then the moment passes, and he looks away, and starts to fiddle with a zipper on his backpack.
Eduardo pulls back onto the highway, and wonders, vaguely, what he's gotten himself into. "I'm Eduardo," he offers.
There's a beat.
"Mark," says the guy.
"And... where are you headed?" asks Eduardo.
Mark is quiet for a moment. Then he shrugs, and clutches his backpack even tighter, and says, with resolve: "I'm headed west."